A SOBRLIFE Guide on Drug and Alcohol Use and Abuse
Emerging research points to genetics as a major factor in addiction. Knowing that, should people act or behave differently?
Our latest guide from SOBRLIFE.com looks into exactly this: how gene and environment interactions combine to contribute to alcohol and substance use disorders for many of us.
If addiction runs in your family, should you be prepared for battle? Keep reading to learn how genetics impacts addiction and what to do if you’re faced with a hereditary risk, and how our genetic differences can impact our mental health and attempts at recovery.
A Genetic Predisposition, Not a Genetic Determination
By some estimates, genetics are responsible for half of the likelihood of developing an addiction. That makes genetics arguably the biggest risk factor of all for alcohol addiction. However, no risk factor is a guarantee of addiction. Genetics might make a person predisposed to addiction, but addiction can still be avoided.
There are many different risk factors that can contribute to the development of an addiction. Societal and environmental factors, mental health, age when trying addictive substances and so much more, all play a role. None of these factors can take complete responsibility for the formation of an illness.
Compare addiction to another illness such as breast cancer or even diabetes. Both of these diseases, like alcohol addiction and genetics itself, have a genetic component. Women who have breast cancer in their immediate family are more likely also to have breast cancer in the future. However, it is not a guaranteed diagnosis.
Like any other risk factor for alcohol dependence, genetics can be overcome. Armed with the knowledge to prevent addiction and embrace moderation or living a fully sober lifestyle, individuals can avoid addiction and stay on the path to health.
The Genetic Component of Mental Health
Mental health issues are one of the major causes of addiction. Many people self-medicate an undiagnosed or untreated mental illness with drugs or alcohol, leading to dependence. However, mental health might also have a genetic component and genetic factors that could, in turn, increase the likelihood of developing an addiction.
Mental health and genetics are often thought of as two separate risk factors for addiction. In reality, they might have a lot in common. Mental illness is sometimes thought of as an inherited trait. This means that the risk of developing mental illness goes up for those who are related to people with a mental illness.
Alcohol Use Disorders and Your Family History
Knowing that mental illness can be a cause of addiction could impact the genetic predisposition for addiction. If a person’s parents or siblings struggle with mental health, they could also struggle with mental health conditions in the future. That, in turn, could mean an increased genetic risk factors for developing an addiction.
Once again, it is vital to point out that these are merely risk factors. It is entirely possible for a person to have addiction and mental health in their family and still avoid substance use disorder or even the threat of addiction.
Every individual has to take control and responsibility for their actions and decisions, especially the ones that may lead to addiction. And even without any family history of addiction, social and environmental factors can all contribute to you (or a loved one) developing a substance use disorder of some kind.
A Shared History of Trauma or Mental Disorders
Sometimes, it isn’t just genetics that can cause multiple family members to struggle with addiction. In some cases, it might be a shared family history of trauma. Since trauma is a risk factor, those who experience the same family trauma face an increased risk for developing addiction.
Trauma is one of the most common risk factors that leads to substance abuse and addiction. Trauma can be any number of things that causes distress. It could be time spent in the military in an active war zone, or it could be domestic abuse. It might even be witnessing a violent crime or being in a serious emergency situation.
Often, trauma is deeply personal. Part of the trauma might even be intensified because no one else understands what the experience was like. Sometimes, that trauma is shared among family members.
One violent family member, for example, can traumatize the rest of the family. Or, the entire family might be the victims of a robbery or a home invasion. If the entire family was involved in a fire or a flood, each member might have their own traumatic experience to work through. Treating trauma is necessary in order to reduce the person’s risk of addiction in the future.
Preparing for a Greater Risk of Addiction
Because of genetics, mental health concerns or a shared history of alcohol abuse or trauma, there are some individuals who recognize their increased risk for addiction. Just acknowledging that fact is an important and helpful step. It is normal to want to do more to prevent addiction, and in some cases that can be beneficial.
One way to prepare for the threat of addiction is to learn how to manage stress. Many, many people abuse substances in part because they can’t handle stress in a healthy way. Developing coping mechanisms that include activities like religious meetings, physical exercise or an engaging hobby can be a great way to prevent addiction from taking hold.
Reducing the Risk of Environmental Factors
Another way to prepare for substance use and prevent addiction is to practice moderation or abstinence from certain substances.
Heroin, as one example of drug abuse, is highly addictive. Over 23 percent of those who try heroin will go on to have an opioid addiction. Those with an increased risk should never, ever take that chance.
Socially acceptable substances like alcohol also should be carefully consumed. Some people with alcoholism in their family might opt to abstain from drinking alcohol altogether. Others will be careful to only drink in moderation, and never to drink with any frequency.
Setting an Example for the Next Generation
Sometimes, preparing for the risk of addiction isn’t just about you. Some preparation can ensure that the next generation is also safe, sober and free from the risks of alcohol use disorder and addiction.
One way to prepare the next generation is to ensure that mental health is addressed. Eliminate any stigma around seeking support and help those who need professional guidance get medication, counseling or any other helpful resources.
Turning an Honest Light on Alcohol Abuse and Drug Abuse
Also helpful will be speaking the truth about addiction. Glamorizing alcohol use and consumption, or making it seem like an adult pastime, could serve to make certain substances a forbidden fruit. Being honest about the risks may be helpful. It is also beneficial to carefully monitor young children and teens to avoid any inappropriate consumption.
Addiction is, at least in part, genetic. Awareness and preparation can go a long way in personal sobriety and reducing the risk of addiction for the next generation.
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